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John Martin

1789 – 1854

The Crucifixion by John Martin

The Crucifixion   1834

  Original mezzotint with etching.
Ref: Campbell/Wees 91
Original John Martin mezzotint with etching.

Very good impression printed with specially shaded warm-toned ink in the distant city at upper right. In this comparatively early impression, the shaded parts of the city of Jerusalem are printed clearly, with the pointed obelisk still visible – in later impressions these parts of the city become a uniform sea of darkness and the obelisk disappears.

The Crucifixion was John Martin’s first major mezzotint of a New Testament subject and it remained his favourite theme from the New Testament throughout his life. This engraving is unquestionably one of John Martin’s finest achievements in the mezzotint medium and contains some of the finest passages of any of his engraved works – the splendid architecture of the city of Jerusalem, the turbulence of the sky riven by a bolt of lightning, and the effects of light throughout the whole composition are without equal.

Upon its release this mezzotint was greeted with great acclaim by the critics; however, its comparative rarity today would indicate that sales were relatively few. No sales figures are known for this engraving as John Martin did not publish the plate himself, selling it instead to the publisher F.G. Moon for £1,000, an enormous sum in 1834. Moon’s printers followed John Martin’s directions regarding his habitual practise of blending differing tones of ink to create the impression of warmth in certain areas of the image. The print was issued with an accompanying descriptive catalogue in which John Martin was careful to describe the historical accuracy of the events depicted and the topographical accuracy of his reconstruction of the city of Jerusalem.

The moment which John Martin has chosen to depict is when Jesus fulfils his sacrifice and the veil of the temple is rent in twain by the bolt of lightning which pierces the dense veil of cloud. The scale of the design was based upon the height of the spectators crowding along the outer walls of the city, Martin’s description stating: “Supposing the figures each to be six feet high the proportionate scale of the buildings of the city will be found to be historically correct” (Key to Mr. Martin’s engraving of The Crucifixion, p.6). Attention was paid to every detail of the event – John Martin tells us that “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” – in the foreground are seen a group of women recoiling in fright from the spectral figure of one of the dead emerging from a darkened tomb.

A very good impression, trimmed to the image. On heavy wove paper, left corners tips of sheet expertly repaired. Evidence of previous mounting on canvas verso, otherwise good, sound condition.

William Weston Gallery Ltd., London
Private Collection, New York